Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Living Safely with Robots, Beyond Asimov's Laws

In situations like this one, as described in a recent study published in the International Journal of Social Robotics, most people would not consider the accident to be the fault of the robot. But as robots are beginning to spread from industrial environments to the real world, human safety in the presence of robots has become an important social and technological issue. Currently, countries like Japan and South Korea are preparing for the “human-robot coexistence society,” which is predicted to emerge before 2030; South Korea predicts that every home in its country will include a robot by 2020.

Unlike industrial robots that toil in structured settings performing repetitive tasks, these “Next Generation Robots” will have relative autonomy, working in ambiguous human-centered environments, such as nursing homes and offices. Before hordes of these robots hit the ground running, regulators are trying to figure out how to address the safety and legal issues that are expected to occur when an entity that is definitely not human but more than machine begins to infiltrate our everyday lives.

In their study, authors Yueh-Hsuan Weng, a Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies (KCJS) visiting student at Yoshida, Kyoto City, Japan, along with Chien-Hsun Chen and Chuen-Tsai Sun, both of the National Chiao Tung University in Hsinchu, Taiwan, have proposed a framework for a legal system focused on Next Generation Robot safety issues. Their goal is to help ensure safer robot design through “safety intelligence” and provide a method for dealing with accidents when they do inevitably occur.

The authors have also analyzed Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics, but (like most robotics specialists today) they doubt that the laws could provide an adequate foundation for ensuring that robots perform their work safely.

One guiding principle of the proposed framework is categorizing robots as “third existence” entities, since Next Generation Robots are considered to be neither living/biological (first existence) or non-living/non-biological (second existence). A third existence entity will resemble living things in appearance and behavior, but will not be self-aware.

While robots are currently legally classified as second existence (human property), the authors believe that a third existence classification would simplify dealing with accidents in terms of responsibility distribution.

One important challenge involved in integrating robots into human society deals with “open texture risk” - risk occurring from unpredictable interactions in unstructured environments. An example of open texture risk is getting robots to understand the nuances of natural (human) language. While every word in natural language has a core definition, the open texture character of language allows for interpretations that vary due to outside factors.

As part of their safety intelligence concept, the authors have proposed a “legal machine language,” in which ethics are embedded into robots through code, which is designed to resolve issues associated with open texture risk - something which Asimov’s Three Laws cannot specifically address.

“During the past 2,000 years of legal history, we humans have used human legal language to communicate in legal affairs,” Weng told PhysOrg.com. “The rules and codes are made by natural language (for example, English, Chinese, Japanese, French, etc.). When Asimov invented the notion of the Three Laws of Robotics, it was easy for him to apply the human legal language into his sci-fi plots directly.”

As Chen added, Asimov’s Three Laws were originally made for literary purposes, but the ambiguity in the laws makes the responsibilities of robots’ developers, robots’ owners, and governments unclear.

“The legal machine language framework stands on legal and engineering perspectives of safety issues, which we face in the near future, by combining two basic ideas: ‘Code is Law’ and ‘Embedded Ethics,’” Chen said. “In this framework, the safety issues are not only based on the autonomous intelligence of robots as it is in Asimov’s Three Laws.

Rather, the safety issues are divided into different levels with individual properties and approaches, such as the embedded safety intelligence of robots, the manners of operation between robots and humans, and the legal regulations to control the usage and the code of robots. Therefore, the safety issues of robots could be solved step by step in this framework in the future.”

Weng also noted that, by preventing robots from understanding human language, legal machine language could help maintain a distance between humans and robots in general.

“If robots could interpret human legal language exactly someday, should we consider giving them a legal status and rights?” he said. “Should the human legal system change into a human-robot legal system? There might be a robot lawyer, robot judge working with a human lawyer, or a human judge to deal with the lawsuits happening inter-human-robot.

Robots might learn the kindness of humans, but they also might learn deceit, hypocrisy, and greed from humans. There are too many problems waiting for us; therefore we must consider if it is a better to let the robots keep a distance from the human legal system and not be too close to humans.”

In addition to using machine language to keep a distance between humans and robots, the researchers also consider limiting the abilities of robots in general. Another part of the authors’ proposal concerns “human-based intelligence robots,” which are robots with higher cognitive abilities that allow for abstract thought and for new ways of looking at one’s environment.

However, since a universally accepted definition of human intelligence does not yet exist, there is little agreement on a definition for human-based intelligence. Nevertheless, most robotics researchers predict that human-based intelligence will inevitably become a reality following breakthroughs in computational artificial intelligence (in which robots learn and adapt to their environments in the absence of explicitly programmed rules).

However, a growing number of researchers - as well as the authors of the current study - are leaning toward prohibiting human-based intelligence due to the potential problems and lack of need; after all, the original goal of robotics was to invent useful tools for human use, not to design pseudo-humans.

In their study, the authors also highlight previous attempts to prepare for a human-robot coexistence society. For example, the European Robotics Research Network (EURON) is a private organization whose activities include investigating robot ethics, such as with its Roboethics Roadmap. The South Korean government has developed a Robot Ethics Charter, which serves as the world’s first official set of ethical guidelines for robots, including protecting them from human abuse.

Similarly, the Japanese government investigates safety issues with its Robot Policy Committee. In 2003, Japan also established the Robot Development Empiricism Area, a “robot city” designed to allow researchers to test how robots act in realistic environments.

Despite these investigations into robot safety, regulators still face many challenges, both technical and social. For instance, on the technical side, should robots be programmed with safety rules, or should they be created with the ability for safety-oriented reasoning? Should robot ethics be based on human-centered value systems, or a combination of human-centered value systems with the robot’s own value system?

Or, legally, when a robot accident does occur, how should the responsibility be divided (for example, among the designer, manufacturer, user, or even the robot itself)?

Weng also indicated that, as robots become more integrated into human society, the importance of a legal framework for social robotics will become more obvious. He predicted that determining how to maintain a balance between human-robot interaction (robot technology development) and social system design (a legal regulation framework) will present the biggest challenges in safety when the human-robot coexistence society emerges.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Murata Boy, the Robot that can Ride Bicycles

RoboTrac, Future Robotic Farmhand

Calling the Valtra RoboTrac a tractor is a bit deceptive. That's because it's also a robot, and it's much smaller than its industrious cousins. It's a fully programmable, automated farmhand that is designed to round out a farm team with whatever it's lacking. It can perform anything a farmer may need from tilling, plowing, disking, planting, harrowing, spraying, weeding, and other similar tasks. And, thanks to its small size, it can work the fields without wrecking them, all the while providing a loyal, preprogrammed source of labor.

It’s small size is handy because it can work the fields without wrecking them to bits. It will pay for itself in no time since it cuts down on farmhands. A few more bots like this and the farm is going to be a lonely place of boredom, broken only by cows mooing at robots and the occasional UFO stealing the cows.

Hannes Seeberg is an industrial designer from Estonia, and graduated from the Umea Institute of Design in Sweden.

The PaPeRo Mini

The PaPeRo is a personal robot being developed by Japanese firm, NEC Corporation. It is noted for its cute appearance and its facial recognition system. The robot's development began in 1997 with the first prototype, the R100, and adopted the name PaPeRo, which stands for "Partner-type-Personal-Robot" in 2001.

PaPeRo has been researched and developed with the intention of its being a partner with human beings and its being able to live together with them. For this reason, it has various basic functions for the purpose of interacting with people.

In order for PaPeRo to interact with people and perform autonomous actions, the robot itself must understand information on the conditions of and outside the location where it has been put. For this reason, various pieces of equipment have been included to detect the outside area, such as a CCD camera, microphone, ultrasonic sensors, etc.

In the spring of 2009 NEC introduced PaPeRo Mini, weighing half of the current PaPeRo model, and has physical dimensions roughly half the size of the original. The PaPeRo Mini has several enhanced capabilities, and has a small LCD monitor on the font of its chest.

The PaPeRo Mini measures 250mm x 170mm x 179mm versus the 385mm x 248mm x 245mm of its predecessor. This reduction in size does not mean a similar approach has been taken with its features as the PaPeRo Mini still incorporated amazing speech recognition and signaling features as well as conversational capabilities that were associated with the original PaPeRo.

PaPeRo uses different technologies to interact with its environment. For example, Its "eyes" are really twin cameras with a face recognition system. When PaPeRo has nothing to do, it roams around looking for faces. Upon finding one, it will try to start a conversation.

PaPeRo also has a speech recognition system. With a pair of powerful microphones, it can determine exactly where a sound comes from and if the sound is human speech. The robot will then interpret the information and respond accordingly. While PaPeRo roams around, it uses an ultrasound system located in its chest to detect objects. If an object lies in its path, PaPeRo's ultrasound system will detect where exactly the object is, and then PaPeRo will decide what to do to avoid the object.

PaPeRo also has sensors located in its head. These sensors can detect if the robot is patted, slapped, etc., with PaPeRo responding accordingly.

Continuous operation time: Approximately 2 to 3 hours
Battery charging time: Approximately 2 to 3 hours
Number of recognizable words: Approximately 3000 (in speaking mode)
Number of speaking words: Approx. 3000

Robotic lawn mowers

Robotic lawn mowers represented the second largest category of household autonomous robots used by the end of 2005. A typical robotic lawn mower requires the user to set up a border wire around the lawn that defines the area to be mowed. The robot uses this wire to locate the boundary of the area to be trimmed and in some cases to locate a recharging dock. Robotic mowers are capable of maintaining up to 5 acres (20,000 m2) of grass.

Robotic lawn mowers are increasingly sophisticated, are self-docking and some contain rain sensors if necessary, nearly eliminating human interaction.

Robomow is capable of maintaining up to 1/2 acre of grass while the larger professional LawnBott is capable of maintaining up to 3 acres (12,000 m2). The Husqvarna Automower targets primarily homeowners and can mow up to 3/4 acres.

The Husqvarna Automower was the first robotic mower made available through mainstream channels. Between 1995 and 1999 Husqvarna introduced their first fully solar robotic mower and their first Generation 1 automatic robotic mower. From 1995 through 2003 Husqvarna's Automower was successful. However, Husqvarna's boom in robotic mower sales really began in 2004 with the introduction of the Generation 2 Automower.

Originally branded the Electrolux Automower after Husqvarna's parent company at the time, the Gen 2 machine featured many advancements not previously seen. The primary advancements were the ability for the mower to find its charging station via radio frequency, by following the boundary wire, or by following an optional guide wire. This improvement eliminated wear patterns in the lawn caused by the mower only being able to follow one wire back to the station. The Gen 2 Automower also has the ability to be easily programmed to follow the guide wire or the boundary wire out of the station to remote areas. This assures that the mower will always get to all areas of the lawn even if they are accessible only through narrow passages. Improved wheel motors and more aggressive wheels provide even more stability on hillsides and the blade height adjustment is easily accessible from the top of the machine versus from below on the Gen 1. A LCD screen with menu options also made the Gen 2 much more user friendly.

As of this writing, Husqvarna has taken the top position as global leader in robotic mowing technology and sales with over 70,000 mowers operating in Europe alone. The brand is no longer tied to Electrolux and is branded Husqvarna all over the world. In Europe, Husqvarna offers 5 models listed below. The US offers the 210C, 220AC, 230ACX, and Solar Hybrid in 2009 with plans of launching the 260ACX in the US in 2010.

1. 210C (Chargeable) The 210C is designed for smaller lawns. The mower operates along the same principle as other robotic mowers described here with exception of the unit being able to recharge itself. The mower is designed to be put out by the owner one or two times a week and the mower mows up to five hours at a time. The mower is then stored until the next mowing.
2. 220AC (Automatic Charging) Contrary to the model number, this unit does not require a 220v system. It is powered off a standard 110v power supply. This mower is fully automatic, will find its way back to the station on its own, and is fully programmable. The 220AC is designed for lawns up to 1/2 acre.
3. 230ACX (Automatic Charging Xtra) The 230ACX is very similar to the 220AC with exception of a few factors. With twice the battery strength and more powerful wheel motors, the 230ACX is able to stay out longer on a charge as well as move faster while cutting. This allows the 230ACX to handle lawns up to 3/4 of an acre. The 230ACX also comes with the ability to run two guide wires, program up to five remote areas, and the backlit display and keyboard improve the owners interaction experience.
4. The Automower Solar Hybrid - The solar hybrid is the return of solar mowing technology. The solar hybrid is designed to draw as much of its power supply as possible from the sun, further reducing the electricity from the home used to support the mower. The solar hybrid's functionality is very similar to the 230ACX with exception to the solar technology.
5. 260ACX (Automatic Charging Xtra) The 260ACX handles up to 1.5 acres (6000 m2) of lawn, has built in anti collision sensors and is able to send mobile text messages.


The Robomower is a robotic mulching lawnmower made by Friendly Robotics.

Invented in Israel, the product charges from household current, so it does not directly emit any greenhouse gases. It was identified by the Guinness Book of World Records as the best-selling robotic lawn mower in the world. It comes with a rechargeable lead-acid battery pack. It can be programmed to mow around the perimeter of the lawn and inside the lawn. It has sensors on the front and on the back.

The Friendly Robotics mower uses sophisticated patented tiling algorithms to calculate the most effective pattern for cutting the entire lawn.

LawnBott / Mowbot

The LawnBott is a robotic (autonomous) lawn mower marketed in the U.S. and Canada by Kyodo America Home Robotics. The mowers are manufactured by the Italian engineering company Zucchetti Centro Sistemi, and are distributed in some European countries under the brand names Mowbot, Ambrogio, Oscar, and Wiper. They are programmed to emerge from a recharging station on command or at a scheduled time. The mower will criss-cross a lawn (from edge to edge) at random angles and will spiral randomly usually in the middle of the lawn. The more advanced models can control blade speed based on grass height and spiral when longer grass is found (bit like an irobot roomba when it finds dirts). When the battery is exhausted or the schedule has ended the mower will return automatically to its base to recharge by following the perimeter guide wire. There are around 15 active dealers in the U.S. LawnBott currently has 4 models:

1. LB2100 / LB2150 (Professional)- comes standard with 2 lead acid batteries. The stated coverage is 1/2 acre with slopes of up to 12 degrees. Currently it retails at $1,999. Added in 2009, the LB2150 is the same model but with a single lithium battery for $2,150 and can cover slopes up to 27 degrees.

1. LB3200/LB3210/LB3250 (Evolution)- is the same size as the LawnBott Professional however it has a very high-tech lithium-ion battery. It can cover 3/4 acre and 27 degree slopes. Optional spiked wheels increase slope performance to 30 degrees. A 2nd internal lithium-ion battery can be added to increase coverage to approximately 1 1/4 acre.

1. LB3500 / LB3550 - comes standard with a single lithium-ion battery having the equivalent performance of two Li batteries with room for two more. It can cover 1 acre (43,000 sq ft) of grass out of the box and lots (including house, driveway, etc.) up to 2 acres (8,100 m2) with two more extra batteries (grass area approx. 1.5 acres (6,100 m2)) with slopes up to 30 degrees with optional spiked wheels.

1. LB1200 / Spyder - the first household robotic lawn mower that requires no perimeter wire. It comes with 1 lithium battery. The stated coverage is 5,500 sq ft with slopes of up to 27 degrees. Currently it retails at $1,399.

The lithium-ion batteries contain smart chips to improve life expectancy. One of the biggest factors in battery life is the number of recharge cycles. Adaptive technology on the LB3200/3210/3500 keeps the Lawnbott in the charging station when the grass is dormant or growing slowly. Lawnbott only mows when necessary, improving battery life, reducing wear and tear and improving its overall life expectancy.

Lawnbott is small and maneuverable. The LB3200/3210/2100 measures roughly 22 x 16 x 10 inches and weigh 22 pounds. LB3500 is 25% larger and somewhat less maneuverable. LB3200/3210/2000 performs better on yards with many obstacles vs. LB3500. LB3500/3200/3210 work well on steep slopes. The LawnBott LB1200 weighs only 18 pounds.

The newest model is designed for yards of up to 1.5-acre (6,100 m2) with installation of extra batteries. A perimeter wire is included, for marking off the area to be mowed. They are designed to cut the tops of the grass stalks, that is, less than will usually be cut by a push-mower, and to compensate by cutting more often.

Androvio - Control Rovio robot with Android phone

I like robots as much as the next geek and when they have web cams built-in that will allow me to see what’s going on in another room without having to get off my lazy duff I am all the more interested. The Rovio robot webcam is just such a device and I really want one.

If you already have your Rovio, you can now control the robot and see the live webcam feed right from your Android mobile phone. The application that lets you control the bot is called AndRovio and it’s from developer Poignant Projects.

You have full control over Rovio using the app from direction to camera position and everything in between. The app allows full control anywhere there is an available Wi-Fi connection. You can even get warnings on screen if the IR obstacle detector spots anything in the way. You can also use a 3G connection or even EDGE, but you can expect degraded video. The app is available for 99 cents on the Android Market.

.. from androidWorldNews.blogspot.com

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Automated manufacturing helps Valpak

Special delivery: Automated manufacturing helps Valpak
MMH.com - Newton,MA,USA
Valpak describes the new facility as a hub of technology where automation and robotics are at the core of the operation. A four-crane unit-load automated ...
See all stories on this topic

Friday, June 12, 2009

Japan prepares robots to take over the kitchen

TOKYO (Reuters) - They've got ones that clean, and others that pour drinks, so it was only a matter of time before Japanese inventors came up with robots that can cook.

Various prototype robo-chefs showed off their cooking skills at the International Food Machinery and Technology Expo in Tokyo this week, flipping "okonomiyaki" Japanese pancakes, serving sushi and slicing vegetables.

"We all know that robots can be very useful. We want to take that utility out of the factory so that they can be used elsewhere," said Narito Hosomi, president of Toyo Riki, manufacturers of the pancake-cooking robot.

Japan has one of the world's fastest aging societies and experts say robots can help care for the growing number of elderly, and fill in for the lack of young people willing to take on jobs as chefs, cleaners or caretakers.

Masanori Hirano of Kyoto-based robot lab Squse, which came up with an android sushi waiter, said robots could help manage the stress associated with fine dining establishments.

"If a human does this job, it can be stressful. And if so, they can leave the work to the robot," he said.

Japan is home to almost half the world's 800,000 industrial robots and expects the industry to expand to $10 billion.

Tomio Sugiura, president of Sugiura Kikai Sekkei, which manufactured the vegetable-slicing robot, saw a robot in every home in the near future.

"Nowadays, almost every family has a car. In the near future, every family would be having a humanoid robot that can help out various things at home," he said.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

white box robotics

Japan's earthquake rescue robot

04:00 - 5.0 stars (6 ratings)

The BBC's Richard Black takes a look at the development of a Japanese robot that could help rescue survivors after an earthquake and a variety of ...